“It hurts to win,” but the Terriers are ready to feel the burn

By Mitch Fink
Photo by Caroline Fernandez

Through a playing career that spanned over two decades, Boston University head coach Jay Pandolfo learned a lesson that has come to define his team: It hurts to win.

Captain Domenick Fensore is the living proof.

Ever since Fensore was crushed into the Agganis Arena boards during a game on Jan. 20, the senior defenseman has been playing through pain. He fought past it, taking on heavy minutes in each of the Terriers’ next nine games. 

Then, in BU’s Hockey East Tournament opener against Vermont, another hit sent Fensore back to the locker room. He returned to the lineup when BU faced Providence in the Hockey East semifinals at TD Garden six days later.

Nobody outside BU’s locker room knows exactly how hurt Fensore is. Maybe we’ll find out after the season. Clearly, he’s sacrificing plenty by being on the ice. 

“I came to BU and I wanted to play in those big games, and I didn’t wait four years to watch them. So, I was like ‘I’m gonna suit up and play,’” Fensore said on our Terrier Hockey Talk podcast last Monday. “There was no way I’m not going to play in these games.”

Cornell, BU’s opponent in the Manchester Regional final on Saturday, is one of the most physically imposing teams in the country. Fensore took a brunt of the hits the Big Red laid on the Terriers. And though he may not be 100% healthy, Fensore stood in and played a key role in BU’s gameplan, finding teammates on stretch passes, moving the puck well in the offensive zone and serving as the collected, veteran captain we know him to be. Fensore was also named to the Manchester Regional All-Tournament team.

BU is now just two wins away from a national championship. If the Terriers finish off this playoff run with a win, Fensore’s ability to compete through injury will be a key reason why. 

The willingness to sacrifice physically extends beyond Fensore, too. Look no further than BU’s shot-blocking prowess in recent games, which was noticeably lacking in the Terriers’ Beanpot semifinal loss to Northeastern. 

Cade Webber blocked nine shots in the Manchester Regional. Ty Gallagher blocked five. Even the offensive-minded Lane Hutson upped his physicality — especially in the Cornell game. Without collective buy-in, that doesn’t happen. It wouldn’t have happened last season.

Pandolfo deserves a lion’s share of credit for that buy-in. It’s clear that players really want to play for the first-year head coach. They respect his pedigree as a BU legend (1995 champion) and as an NHL player (two-time Stanley Cup champion with the New Jersey Devils).

“He’s won, so he knows what it takes,” Fensore said of Pandolfo. “‘You’re going to have bumps and bruises and ice packs on you. That means you guys sacrificed and won.’ That’s [Pandolfo’s] biggest message to us lately.”

When Pandolfo tells his team that it hurts to win, the Terriers are ready to feel the burn. So far, it’s paid off.

Other Observations

  • It isn’t easy to play a fast-paced, high-scoring team (Western Michigan) and then face a muck-it-up, low-scoring opponent (Cornell) two days later. BU thrived against both styles of play.  
  • Drew Commesso is as locked in as he’s ever been. Watch back the highlights from that 9-6 game against Boston College in December. Commesso looks unrecognizable.
  • BU’s fourth line of Sam Stevens, Jamie Armstrong and Devin Kaplan looked great against Western Michigan’s high-powered top line. Will Pandolfo try the fourth line against Minnesota’s top line of Matthew Knies, Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud? Knies, Cooley and Snuggerud have combined for 59 goals and 79 assists this year (woof). 

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